Our drone for whale research affectionately called “SnotBot,” created in collaboration with our partners at Olin College of Engineering, was recently featured on the Discovery Channel series “Daily Planet.” In the segment Iain Kerr and our Robotics Team join Olin College robotics students with Dr. Andrew Bennett at our headquarters in Gloucester, MA to demonstrate how drones can help us understand what human activities cause whales stresses by allowing us to sample mucus containing stress hormones (plus viruses, bacteria and DNA) from their exhalations without disturbing the animal:
My organization, Ocean Alliance, has for years, distanced itself from the use of mass mailings, or as we call it…junk mail. As effective as it seems to be, it is no good for the environment to be mailing tons of paperwork, most of which gets thrown away. However, through this much more environmentally friendly message, I hope to reach you with an important message.
As we look to the future this holiday season, we might as well revisit that well-worn phrase: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. I think comedian George Carlin was correct, with his ironic statement – “Life is all about trying to find a place to keep all of our stuff – while we go out and get more stuff!” Unfortunately, the holiday season, once about family gatherings, having fun with friends and cherishing your loved ones, has begun to revolve around material “Stuff.”
According to a report by Harris Interactive, of the US adults who receive holiday gifts, 83% (more than 4 in 5) do not want the gifts. After they are opened, these presents and the packaging they come in simply become more “Stuff,” most of which is thrown away. So I encourage you this holiday season to think about all of the “Stuff” you are purchasing, including the packaging it comes in.
Instead of buying “Stuff,” why not instead Go Green & Buy Blue? A whale adoption from Ocean Alliance fits that bill perfectly. By purchasing a whale adoption for a loved one, you can inspire and educate, while supporting Ocean Alliance’s ongoing whale and ocean pollution research devoted to protecting whales and their ocean world (…and you keep all of the packaging materials out of the oceans.)
One of the strongest tools for conserving the environment is the collective purchasing power of concerned consumers like you – if we stop buying single-use or overly packaged products, companies will stop wasting those resources.
So, please, flex your buying muscles this holiday season. Go Green & Buy Blue!
You can adopt a humpback whale here.
With very best wishes for the season,
One of the initiatives that Ocean Alliance has been pushing hard on over the last year is the development of a robotics program. When our organization was founded in the 1970s most people believed you had to kill whales to learn about them. Our founder, Dr. Roger Payne, was a pioneer in developing benign research tools–techniques that can be used to collect data without killing the animals. Read More
This week a group of educators, students and robotics enthusiasts from our home city of Gloucester, Massachusetts met with Iain Kerr and staff at our new Robotics Lab to talk about how this space can be put to use for the benefit of the community. On first entering the new lab a couple of the attendees asked if they could move in. Visitors were able to check out our collection of drones and simulators, and had a nighttime demonstration flight of a drone.
During the day Ocean Alliance is aggressively pursuing projects on a number of different fronts in the field of marine robotics. Working with Olin College we are trying to develop drones that can collect a variety of data from our oceans with minimal effort from the handlers. But having the space open to local students and educators on evening Hobby Nights will add resources and collaboration opportunities to locals with an interest in robotics.
This work is supported in part by a grant from the Applied Material Foundation and the generosity of Antonio Bertone who provided the recycled shipping container that currently houses our lab at the Paint Factory in Gloucester.
I am writing this blog from the RV Odyssey 120 nautical miles out in the Gulf of Mexico on the final leg of Operation Toxic Gulf 2014 with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Most of the day we are tracking whales acoustically (oh for a drone to help us find whales), but for part of every day on this leg we are conducting ship trials (at sea launch and recovery exercises) on a variety of drones. Read More
We had some very high energy visitors to the RV Odyssey during Operation Toxic Gulf 2014–pantropical spotted dolphins riding our bow long enough that we could capture this video with our bowcam. These dolphins are 6 to 7 feet and are recognized by the dark “cape” on their backs. We can’t say for certain but they seem to be having a pretty good time:
When the RV Odyssey embarked on her five-year journey The Voyage of the Odyssey from 2000-2005 to study the health of the world’s oceans, the first mate was a young naturalist the crew had met leading kayaking tours in Alaska named Josh Jones. Fourteen years later Josh finds himself back on the Odyssey, this time as a researcher from Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Acoustic Lab, with the task of training the Operation Toxic Gulf crew on the new acoustic gear that allows us to listen to and track whales. In this new video Josh explains the goal of his work listening to whales:
Ocean Alliance has had a busy spring. The research vessel Odyssey is having a successful campaign in the Gulf of Mexico with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and reconstruction has started on brick buildings A, B and the chimney of our headquarters–the Paint Factory. Our plan remains to put our robotics lab upstairs in building A, but our robotics program is outpacing the readiness of the building. Antonio Bertone to the rescue. Read More
Whales are a species of sound. They live in a world of sound, communicate through sound, and captured the world’s attention when Roger Payne and Scott McVay discovered that they sing songs. Roger, in addition to being a biologist, is also a musician, and it became his life’s work to share their songs and inspire a passion to protect them.
It’s no surprise then that artists and musicians, poets and composers are drawn to whales. This is how the Whale Guitar came to be. Read More
A Special Guest Post by Ocean Alliance President and Founder Dr. Roger Payne:
Between 2000 and 2005 Ocean Alliance ran The Voyage of the Odyssey, a research expedition that circumnavigaged the globe measuring background levels in sperm whales of a series of contaminants. We came back with over 900 samples from sperm whales which we had analyzed for a suite of contaminants. The worst offending molecules turned out to be toxic metals—not just mercury and lead but Chromium, Aluminum, Silver and several other highly toxic metals. Read More
When we first started talking with Olin College of Engineering in 2010 about a collaboration, they were very interested in Ocean Alliance providing their students with real world (or applied) challenges. A rapidly growing part of our oceanographic research program is the field of robotics, particularly as it applies to developing benign research techniques (those that cause no harm). SailBot, SnotShot and SnotBot are three good examples. As Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr has spoken at different schools and events he has noticed a lot of interest in this field of robotics, so from our work with Olin and this interest came the idea to build the Applied Robotics Research Laboratory and Club at the Paint Factory, our headquarters in Gloucester, MA. Read More
This June we will be moving ahead with SnotBot and SnotShot trials in Gloucester Harbor with our partners at Olin College of Engineering. SnotShot is a device we’ve built to simulate whale blows, is a machine that will collect these exhalations looking for viruses, bacteria, DNA and hormones.
In preparation for the trial, Iain Kerr and John Graham recently made a trip to Olin to work with the students of Dr. Andrew Bennett. We sat down as a team to talk about how we could best fine tune the instruments to represent all that we might encounter when we work with wild animals. For example, the SnotShot will sit in a small kayak with a hydrophone in the water to record any propeller noise, a small camera with a microphone to record airborne noise and video the drone approach, a vertical anemometer to check ambient maximum wind speed, and a horizontal anemometer to check maximum vertical wind speed from the drone. Before taking the drones out students at Olin will be flying over a pressure plate to get accurate measurements of downwash created by the drone.
The purpose here is not just to do trial flights and collect simulated whale blow data, but also to collect all the info we can about what a whale might hear, see and feel when approached by a drone.
When we move on to animal encounters we will bring the SnotShot with us, as in this type of experiment you always need control data. We need to be able to compare what’s in the water with what’s in the whale blow since a large part of the whale blow is seawater.
Thanks to the students of Olin for all of your hard work—we look forward to seeing you in Gloucester!
When you develop any technology to work with wildlife, particularly endangered species such as marine mammals, you want to get all of your prototypes, testing, and dry runs completed before you go out into the field. As we continue to develop our drone, SnotBot, that will be used to collect Exhaled Breath Condensate (EBC or whale blows) looking for viruses, bacteria, DNA, and hormones, we needed a machine that could simulate a whale blow so we could test all aspects of SnotBot including EBC collection protocols, whale approach and effect protocols, and our systems for collecting and bringing back EBC. Read More
It was a beautiful clear sunny day on Saturday when members of the Gloucester community gathered to clean our harbor. Teams were dispersed all around the city thanks to the coordination efforts of the Rozalia Project for a Clean Ocean, Maritime Gloucester, our two Cultural Districts downtown and on Rocky Neck, and our own Rebecca Siswick Graham. After a presentation about ocean trash by the Rozalia Project Friday night, volunteers gathered at their assigned locations Saturday morning for this one-hour effort to collect and record as much trash and recycling as possible. Read More
We continue to review hundreds of hours of bow cam footage from Operation Toxic Gulf, our 2013 joint campaign with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in the Gulf of Mexico following up on the Deepwater Horizon disaster. So far we’ve shared melon-headed whales and rough-toothed dolphins, sperm whales, and now Atlantic spotted dolphins enjoying a calm clear day. Iain Kerr narrates:
To become a functioning oceanographic research and education center at our new headquarters in Gloucester we need a dock. In this case we hope to put in a non-permanent floating dock supported by pilings. This dock will have multiple purposes–we will be able to bring our own research vessels in and we hope to encourage other research vessels, as well as sail-training vessels and schooners, to tie up in front of the Paint Factory.
One thing we are particularly excited about is giving kids access to the water, whether it be working on a robotics program with Olin College, science projects with Maritime Gloucester and local schools, or just messing around in boats.
As with any project at the Paint Factory this is a long, complicated and expensive process. You need at least 15 feet of mud to put in a piling that can support a floating dock. If you don’t have that depth of mud you need to put in what are called rock sockets. Depending on the depth of the rock socket, this can cost from $8000 to $14,000 per piling. In our case we expect to have 10 pilings, which would mean $140K just for the pilings.
This Tuesday Prock Marine of Rockland, ME agreed to stop by the Paint Factory and drop in a few test pilings to see what depth of mud we had. Iain spoke with one gentleman who said–you never can tell, right next to a ledge you can have 30 ft of mud, or the ledge can extend out and you can have only 3 ft of mud.
We have good news to report for this first stage–they found an average depth of 15-19 feet of mud along the front of our facility. This means the mud in front of the Paint Factory is deep enough to support the pilings we will need to put in a floating dock. The next step now is to draw up plans and start the permitting process.
This Friday, March 28th, come and see us at The Bridge Business Expo at Magnolia Library in Gloucester, MA from 4-8 pm. Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr will be on hand from 6-8 to tell you what’s in store this year and answer all of your whale and ocean pollution questions from his 20+ years of experience. Rebecca Siswick-Graham will have whale artifacts, t-shirts for sale, stickers and a free raffle of whale-y items. We’ll be sharing a table with our partners from 7 Seas Whale Watch so you can learn more about the humpback whale population they know so well. Come see the best of what Gloucester has to offer—local non-profits like Cape Ann Art Haven, North Shore Folklore Theatre, and local artisans and businesses from stone carvers to health and wellness providers. There will be wine and refreshments, and lots of fun giveaways and offers so come on down!
Update: SnotBot and SailBot will be there for you to check out.
One of our goals in our new home of Gloucester, MA is to find the passions we share with other groups and organizations in town so that we can work together towards common goals. For us, this means celebrating a vibrant community with a history of survival, and working towards preserving our wild world. A great many of our neighbors share these goals including 7 Seas Whale Watch.
Ocean Alliance is pleased to announce that we have formed a partnership with 7 Seas to work together in educating the public about the whales who live off our coast here in Gloucester and about the pollution that affects all of us who depend on the sea.
7 Seas is a family-owned operation with over 31 years of experience with the whales of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. They know the humpback whales of this area as well as they know their friends and neighbors and will share this knowledge with you on their 108 ft. boat the Privateer IV.
“We are very excited to be working with 7 Seas – their enthusiasm and love for the whales is palpable. We see enormous potential to facilitate our whale conservation mission though this partnership in both the fields of education and science. I am sure that they will teach us as much as we teach them.” –Iain Kerr, CEO of Ocean Alliance
Roger Payne and Ocean Alliance have been working for whales for over forty years, but in Gloucester we’re still the new kids on the block. We’re thankful to 7 Seas for making us feel welcome in our new home and for helping us to do what we do best – be a voice of reason for the wild world.
Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr and team members Dan Albani and John Graham made another visit to Dr. Drew Bennett at Olin College of Engineering on Monday. We are pushing hard to make our headquarters, the Paint Factory in Gloucester, MA, into a fully functioning oceanographic research center this year and to do that we need a laboratory and docks. The laboratory will be multi-use, but the lead initiative is a robotics lab. This will be a space that is not only used by Ocean Alliance and Olin College for our marine projects, but a space that we hope will be used by school groups and others who are interested in applied engineering solutions. [Pictured – Iain Kerr and Drew Bennett. The yellow copter is a dedicated film platform that we plan to use to document animal interactions with other drones]
For the OA team, going to Olin is a bit like going to a giant toy factory. The equipment they have is remarkable — not only the finished products such as multicopters and airplanes but also the technology that they use such as 3D printers and fine-scale milling machines. We walk through their spaces and they advise us on what worked well for them and what did not. We had a long planning session on the next stages for our SnotBot Program (a small drone that will be used to collect physical samples of whale blows). It should be an exciting year for this partnership.
[Below] Iain Kerr and Olin students Mike and Silas in front of a small milling machine. A drone can be seen on the computer screen and parts can be made on the milling machine. The two black and silver machines in the background are 3-D printers
Dr. Bennett and his students showing Iain a hexacopter (a five engine drone)
When you see a plastic bag on the ground or on the beach do you pick it up, or do you walk away? Is it someone else’s problem or is it yours? We’ve been taught that littering is wrong our entire lives — it’s unsightly and inconsiderate. But science is now telling us it’s so much more than that. Read More
This week Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr traveled to Keene State College, where nine architecture students of Randall Walter were waiting with their original designs for our headquarters at the historic Tarr and Wonson Paint Manufactory. Read More